HERE’S a revolutionary thought: If Thomas Jefferson were here today, he might not object to Charlottesville’s effort to discontinue celebrating his birthday by giving city employees the day off.
After all, this was a man whose championship of democracy was so radical for his time that even some of his supporters occasionally thought he’d gone too far. And this was a man who so believed in the concept of egalitarianism that he allowed gawkers onto his private property at Monticello to stare at him, according to accounts.
As a patriot, Jefferson might have favored celebrating the nation’s birthday over his own. As a democrat, he would have accepted Charlottesville City Council’s freedom to make its own decision about recognizing his birthday.
Meanwhile, this isn’t just about not recognizing Jefferson’s birthday; it’s also about finally acknowledging the contributions, and the sufferings, of mistreated Americans of color. It’s an exercise in addition, as well as subtraction.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker wants Charlottesville to celebrate Liberation and Freedom Day around March 3, which is when Union generals arrived in Charlottesville in 1865 to “enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.”
We’ve reached a point in history where a balance is being exacted. Much of our officially celebrated history to date has focused on the great and powerful—and been told from a perspective of heroism, often ignoring more sinister facts.
There can be great inspiration in focusing on the great and the good in history, including the achievements of our Founding Fathers.
But if we have reached the stage of maturity required to face our founders’ failures as well as to celebrate their accomplishments, that could be a positive as well.
Our concern, however, is such liberal thinking may be eclipsed in this situation. Our concern is that the city’s proposal is one of subtraction.
By eliminating the Jefferson birthday, the city is sending the wrong signal. Many critics already have interpreted that signal as rejection of the great accomplishments of Jefferson’s life: his championship of liberty, leadership in forging a new nation, establishment of the University of Virginia and contributions to countless other advances in Virginia and the United States.
To ignore those achievements is as tunnel-visioned as previous generations’ narrow focus on Jefferson the hero.
If Charlottesville wishes to add to history rather than subtract from it, the city should set aside both days as paid holidays.
Granted, there would be a fiscal cost to such a decision. “An additional city holiday”—that is, adding Liberation Day without eliminating the day off for Jefferson’s birthday—“would have a budgetary impact of approximately $62,500 in Fiscal Year 2020,” according to city documents.
Yet such a decision would be more inclusive—and less divisive—than the one now contemplated.
We encourage City Council to take this route.
—(Charlottesville) Daily Progress